Suffolk County Council takes Ofsted criticism on board

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Suffolk County Council has responded to a report, published by Ofsted today (Tuesday, March 4), following an inspection into its arrangements for supporting school improvement.

Councillor Lisa Chambers, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for education, skills and young people, said:

“Ofsted’s report makes sobering reading, and rightly so.

“There are few issues of greater significance than the education our young people receive and if advice needs to be given, it ought to be heard – loud and clear.

“We welcome Ofsted’s report and absolutely agree with the four areas of improvement they have identified. So much so that work to address each of them is already well underway.

“This report confirms that we are tackling the right issues so that the county council is in the best possible position to support and challenge schools to improve.

“We will now, with this guidance from Ofsted, continue on our journey of improvement. Results are improving in Suffolk, but too slowly.

“And although 70 per cent of schools in Suffolk are rated good or outstanding, this isn’t enough. We must all work to drive up standards.

“Key to solving a problem is recognising there is one in the first place. By launching the Raising the Bar inquiry, seeing SOR through and challenging underperforming schools to improve, the county council has demonstrated this recognition.

“Schools also know full well the scale of the challenge facing Suffolk.

“We’re already working, together, to make improvements and will leave no stone unturned in our pursuit of a better future for our children.”

Inspectors recognised that the county council has a vision for improving education attainment, is ambitious and that head teachers value the support they receive from the authority in strengthening governance.

Ofsted has, however, identified four areas of improvement for the county council to focus on:

1. Urgently finalise strategic plans which demonstrate how the Learning and Improvement Service can contribute to the realisation of the council’s vision for improvement.

2.Improve communication with school leaders so that they understand the local authority’s role in school improvement.

3. Ensure that challenge to, and intervention in, maintained schools that are underperforming, lead to rapid improvements in progress and attainment.

4. Implement systematic and robust checks to evaluate the quality of work provided by the Learning Improvement Service.

Suffolk County Council is already working to address the four areas for improvement. Key actions include:

· The development of a four year Raising the Bar school improvement strategy; this will set out clearly the leading role of the local authority when it comes to supporting, challenging and setting clear targets for improvement in schools. This is due to be published in March 2014.

· Once the improvement strategy is launched, the local authority will engage and consult with school leaders to ensure their role in school improvement is understood and that the strategy is adopted throughout the whole establishment.

· Since September, a much stronger and more robust stance has been taken with underperforming schools.

During this period, the council has used its intervention powers (warning notices) more than in the last five years.

· Currently developing, with an external partner, a more robust quality assurance regime for the work of learning and improvement service.

Reorganising schools is a major strand of the county’s approach in tackling historic underperformance in schools.

The areas that have been reorganised in Suffolk, including Lowestoft, Haverhill, Forest Heath and Waveney, are already outperforming three tier areas.

Of the five major school reorganisations that have taken place in England in recent years, Suffolk is the only local authority where standards have not dropped during the reorganisation.